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Is there a connection between the deaths of Brian Wells and James Roden?

James Roden, a white male aged 45, was murdered sometime between August 11 and August 13, 2003. The crime took place in Erie, Pennsylvania. On September 20, 2003 the police discovered Roden's deeply frozen body in a chest freezer in the garage of a house not far from where Brian Wells had been collared with the neck bomb. According to the owner of the house, William Rothstein, the man who had alerted the authorities to the frozen remains, he had taken the dead man from the killing site on East Seventh St. and placed it into the freezer he had purchased for this task. He had dumped the body into his freezer shortly after Roden's violent death. Removing and freezing the body was part of an over-all homicide cover-up plan undertaken at the request of his friend, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, the woman who had been living with Roden at the site of the killing. Rothstein told the police she had paid him $2,000 for the job which included destroying the murder shotgun and cleaning up the bloody mess. As part of the plan, Rothstein had also agreed to dismember the corpse and grind up the parts in his recently purchased ice-crushing machine.

The autopsy revealed that the corpse featured a shotgun wound to the torso and serious trauma to the area of the neck. It should be noted here that in cleaning up the murder room, Rothstein stated that he had repainted the walls and the ceiling. It seems unlikely that a shotgun blast to the torso would splatter blood on the ceiling.

William Rothstein was not without experience in helping to cover-up a criminal homicide. In 1977 he had helped a friend who had murdered a man because the victim was dating the killer's ex-girlfriend. Rothstein, after trying to destroy the murder weapon by melting it down with a torch, place it into a plastic bag and tossed it into the trash. He had given the .25 caliber handgun to the defendant a few months before the killing. Rothstein was given immunity in return for his testimony in the defendant's second trial. Rothstein's testimony was vital because, due to a prosecution mistake, the defendant's first conviction had been set aside and key evidence permanently excluded. In this case, unlike the Roden homicide, Rothstein did not come voluntarily forward with his evidence. His involvement in the crime would have remained a secret had the police not discovered his participation two years after the victim's death. In 1979 the defendant was found guilty and sent to prison. He was released in 1982 and died ten years later.

The closeness of Rothstein's house to the place where the bomb was placed around Brian Wells' neck, and the fact Rothstein had denied involvement in the Wells case in a suicide note found in his house, prompted the FBI to give Rothstein a polygraph test to determine if he had any connection to the Wells killing in addition to the Roden homicide. At that point it appeared as though the two deaths, through Rothstein, were linked. However, when Rothstein "passed" the FBI polygraph test regarding his involvement in the Wells case, the federal agents lost interest in the death of Roden. They did this despite the fact that their own profilers, in painting a psychological picture of the man who killed Brian Wells, portrayed someone quite similar to Rothstein, a similarity so striking it was noted in the press.

Standing alone, Rothstein's account of how James Roden died, and his role in that death, raises questions about his credibility. For example, why would a college graduate with a MENSA level I.Q., go to such gruesome lengths to protect a manifestly insane woman who was prepared to defend herself by claiming that the victim was abusing her? Why would he, for $2,000, re-paint a hallway and bedroom, remove flooring, destroy the murder shotgun, lug the body into his van, haul it into his house, rig a pulley to lift it into his recently purchased freezer chest, then buy an ice crushing machine to grind up the body parts? This begs the question: just whose tracks was he really covering? Why would he risk being caught abusing a corpse, tampering with evidence and obstructing justice? And why, after going to all of that trouble and risk, did he, on September 20, 2003, call the police with his story?

This page was last updated on: Monday, January 14, 2008

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A. James Fisher
Dept. of Political Science & Criminal Justice, 146 Hendricks Hall
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA 16444
e-mail: jfisher@edinboro.edu blog: http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com